Madison’s Notes — The Federal Convention of 1787 — June 27

Liberty Letters, 27 June 1787, James Madison

(Editor’s Summary: For three hours Luther Martin contended that the Federal “powers ought to be kept within narrow limits; that the Senate, and its equality provision, was key to the principle of federalism; that the states, like the people, should never surrender their right of sovereignty; that without the Senate provision that sovereignty would end; and so forth. Spelling has been modernized and most of the short hand changed to full text. Steve Farrell, Editor in Chief, The Moral Liberal)

Mr. RUTLIDGE moved to postpone the 6th Resolution, defining the powers of Congress in order to take up the 7th and 8th which involved the most fundamental points; the rules of suffrage in the two branches which was agreed to nem. con.

A question being proposed on Resolution: 7 1: declaring that the suffrage in the first branch should be according to an equitable ratio.

Mr. L. MARTIN contended at great length and with great eagerness that the General Government was meant merely to preserve the State Governments: not to govern individuals: that its powers ought to be kept within narrow limits; that if too little power was given to it, more might be added; but that if too much, it could never be resumed: that individuals as such have little to do but with their own States; that the General Government has no more to apprehend from the States composing the Union, while it pursues proper measures, that a Government over individuals has to apprehend from its subjects: that to resort to the Citizens at large for their sanction to a new Government will be throwing them back into a State of Nature: that the dissolution of the State Governments is involved in the nature of the process: that the people have no right to do this without the consent of those to whom they have delegated their power for State purposes: through their tongue only they can speak, through their ears, only, can hear: that the States have shewn a good disposition to comply with the Acts, of Congress weak, contemptibly weak as that body has been; and have failed through inability alone to comply: that the heaviness of the private debts, and the waste of property during the war, were the chief causes of this inability: that he did not conceive the instances mentioned by Mr. Madison of compacts between Virginia and Maryland and between Pennsylvania and New Jersey or of troops raised by Massachusetts for defense against the Rebels, to be violations of the Articles of Confederation — that an equal vote in each State was essential to the federal idea, and was founded in justice and freedom, not merely in policy: that though the States may give up this right of sovereignty, yet they had not, and ought not: that the States like individuals were in a State of nature equally sovereign and free. In order to prove that individuals in a State of nature are equally free and independent he read passages from Locke, Vattel, Lord Summers — Priestly. To prove that the case is the same with States till they surrender their equal sovereignty, he read other passages in Locke and Vattel, and also Rutherford: that the States being equal cannot treat or confederate so as to give up an equality of votes without giving up their liberty: that the propositions on the table were a system of slavery for ten States: that as Virginia Massachusetts and Pennsylvania  have 42/90 of the votes they can do as they please without a miraculous Union of the other ten: that they will have nothing to do, but to gain over one of the ten to make them complete masters of the rest: that they can then appoint and execute and adjudicate and legislate for them as they please: that there was and would continue a natural predilection and partiality in men for their own States; that the States, particularly the smaller, would never allow a negative to be exercised over their laws: that no State in ratifying the Confederation had objected to the equality of votes; that the complaints at present run not against this equality but the want of power; that 16 members from Virginia would be more likely to act in concert than a like number formed of members from different States; that instead of a junction of the small States as a remedy, he thought a division of the large States would be more eligible. — This was the substance of a speech which was continued more than three hours. He was too much exhausted he said to finish his remarks, and reminded the House that he should tomorrow, resume them.